Full disclosure: this was meant to be an article that was focused on the players who were invited to development camp and which of them were most likely to get an extended look from the club ala Michael Carcone, Alex D’Aoust, Troy Stecher, Ronalds Kenins and others who have parlayed solid showings into contracts with the club in recent years.
It became evident to me early in the game that my eyes were tending to focus more on the three players that I knew would be with the Comets this season in Tanner MacMaster, Petrus Palmu, and Kole Lind rather than the invitees. I also reseasoned that the invitees’ piece might be better served to wait until the Young Stars Tournament, or what’s left of it wraps up.
So with that, let’s take a look at three players who will very likely be adding some scoring punch to the Comets lineup for the 2018/19 season.
Palmu was a Canucks’ sixth-round pick, 181st overall in the 2017 NHL draft. At five-foot-six, he is not a towering young man by any means, but he definitely isn’t a small one either. He stood tall this night amongst his peers, showing a little more poise and polish to his game than most of the others that he lined up against.
The fact that he played pro hockey last season was evident in his game. He showed smooth skating, a nice shot on his goal, and some deft playmaking on the Tyler Madden tally. Palmu finished the game with a goal and a pair of helpers to help lead team white to a 6-5 victory.
When I spoke with Petrus after the game, I asked him if he saw himself as more of a left-winger or a right-winger in Utica for the coming season. Palmu indicated that he is comfortable on either side but that he spent more time on the left side last season with TPS Turku, where he won Rookie of the Year honours in the Finnish Liiga. He finished his season with 17 goals and 19 assists to give him 36 points in 59 games.
I asked Palmu if he saw himself fitting in on the special teams’ units in Utica, either on the power-play or penalty-kill. He told me that he thinks he is a good all-around player and that he still needs to work on his game, but he followed up by saying that he also felt that he was a smart player who can handle duty on both special teams.
I have said it before, but I think Palmu will quickly become a fan favourite in Utica. He is an easy guy for fans to get behind as he has beaten the odds for his entire career to get to this point. I don’t think that it’s out of the realm of possibility that we see Petrus get into an NHL game before the 2018/19 season wraps up.
Another pick from the 2017 draft, Kole Lind was taken with the Canucks first of two picks in the second round, 33rd overall. Before joining the Comets at the end of last season, Lind piled up 95 points in 58 games with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. No fewer than 39 of those points were goals.
During his six-game stint with the Comets to end the season, Lind picked up one assist. He didn’t get into any playoff action as head coach Trent Cull went with other players ahead of him. Lind has said since the end of the season that his time in Utica was an eye opener for him and he better understands what he has ahead of him in the pro game now.
He has spent his offseason training hard with former NHLer Rich Pilon, and it shows. Lind looks bigger, stronger, and he showed that nasty shot that helped him pile up all of those goals over the years with the Rockets when he rifled one past the glove of goaltender Michael DiPietro for a goal. Sidebar… DiPietro is going to be a beauty when he turns pro.
When I spoke with Lind after the game, I put the same questions to him. Where did he see himself fitting in with the Comets this season? Lind told me that he hopes to take a role on the power-play and that he thinks he can contribute offensively with goals. He went on to say that he wants to develop his game to the pro level this year in Utica.
When I asked him if he was more of a left-winger or a right-side guy, he told me that he is equally comfortable on both wings and that he can slot into the middle as well. He said his versatility helps him feel comfortable no matter where his coach lines him up.
The wings are pretty crowded in Utica, but the depth down the middle isn’t as strong. Trent Cull will have some options to play with as Lind, Zack MacEwen, Tyler Motte, Michael Carcone, and Tanner MacMaster are all wingers who have played some center in the past.
It will be interesting to watch Lind develop this season in Utica. The organization drafted him with an eye to possibly one day have him riding shotgun with Elias Pettersson in Vancouver. If he proves to be worthy of that role in a couple of years, the Canucks will have struck gold in the second round.
Tanner MacMaster joined the Comets on a tryout deal towards the end of last season after four campaigns spent with the Quinnipiac program in the ECAC. He has since been rewarded with a one-year AHL deal with the club. The undrafted forward finished his final season with Quinnipiac appearing in 38 games and picking up 13 goals and 20 assists to give him 33 points.
The Canucks/Comets have seemingly been targeting players with speed and a high hockey IQ recently. MacMaster checks both of those boxes for the team. He stood out in the scrimmage with a pair of goals and looked to have his head on a swivel when he was on the ice, either looking for scoring lanes or to set up a teammate with a heady pass.
MacMaster got into 13 regular season games with the Comets last season, potting a pair of goals and five helpers to give him seven points. He followed that up with one goal and three assists to give him four points in the Comets five-game, first-round playoff series loss to the eventual Calder Cup Champs from Toronto.
In speaking with MacMaster after the game, I posed the same question to him about where he sees himself fitting in with the Comets for the upcoming season. MacMaster told me that he feels that he can play on both the power-play and the penalty-kill for the club as he took on PK duty while with Quinnipiac. He said that he takes pride in the defensive side of his game and that it is something that he is still working on. He went on to say that he wants to be a player who can be relied upon in all situations.
I asked Tanner if he thought he would be able to up his game and continue to bring more offence for the Comets. He said that the experience that he gained with the Comets at the end of the season will help him in that regard and that he feels that he now knows that some things will work out there and some won’t, and that will help him coming into the new season.
I mentioned to MacMaster that I had him pencilled in on the left side with Zack MacEwen in the middle and Lukas Jasek on the right, his reply was, “perfect, that’s awesome.” MacMaster said that he liked playing with MacEwen last year, along with the traded Chaput, but that he also felt that he worked well with Jasek. He also brought up that he played with the hard-working Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton last season at times as well.
MacMaster can slot up and down the lineup for the Comets and play a few different roles for the club. His versatility and hockey sense should help him to have a solid rookie campaign with Utica. He will be one to keep an eye on, folks. It will not surprise me if MacMaster is rewarded with a two-way deal with the Canucks before the start of the 2019/20 season.
Now that I have the Utica trio wrapped up, I will turn my attention to their GM, Ryan Johnson.
I asked the Comets General Manager if any of the invitees had done themselves any favours this week in regards to earning a longer look with the Comets for the coming season. Johnson said that it’s something that they have talked about and that they will discuss things further as they prepare for Penticton, (Young Stars Tournament) later this summer and that they will have some spots to fill for that event. He also said that he thought the invitees did a great job all week representing themselves.
With the Canucks/Comets rosters both swelling, I also asked Johnson if there were any plans to park a few more bodies in Kalamazoo for the upcoming season. He responded by saying that the team intended to have signed players in Kalamazoo for depth so that they wouldn’t need to use a merry-go-round of PTO players again this year. He went on to say that the team would rather have players that they know and players who will know the team culture and be familiar with the systems and be ready to step in. Newcomer Brendan Bradley is one player who falls into that category.
Comets Add Another: Sign Forward Brendan Bradley To AHL Deal https://t.co/CduKvLDWYK
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) July 3, 2018
One last Comets related tidbit. I asked the Canucks most recent first-round pick, Quinn Hughes, if signing with the Canucks and starting the year in Utica would be a no-go for him. He responded by saying that a lot of great players have played in the AHL and went on to list Duncan Keith and Erik Karlsson as examples and that if he had to play there that he would do that as well. He followed up by saying that he was going to talk with his family, the team and his advisors and they would come up with the right decision.
I had noticed that Hughes was playing the right side in the game and asked if that was by design. He responded that his partner wanted to play the left side but that he is comfortable on either side, obviously preferring the left.
It will be a short summer for these young players as they all vie for positions for the upcoming season. The Canucks/Comets still have work to do, but you can see the bones of something good coming along on the horizon. Some of these players will play important roles for the club going forward, so make sure to keep tabs on them as they develop.
One last thing before I finish up. This was my first time being in press row at Rogers Arena. There were several of our local media members there, and they made me feel welcomed. It could have been a lot more intimidating than it was otherwise. So, thank you to those who were open to me walking up and introducing myself. I would also like to thank Petrus Palmu, Kole Lind, Tanner MacMaster, Quinn Hughes, and Ryan Johnson for answering the questions posed by a complete rookie.
All four players were bright and articulate with their responses, and Ryan Johnson took an extra few minutes with me afterwards so that I could introduce myself as a writer who covers the Comets from afar. I believe the Comets are in good hands with Johnson and look forward to watching him climb the ranks as an NHL executive.